The Contributors' Club
IF it were not that it is almost too unpleasant to talk about, M. Emile Zola’s new novel, L’Assommoir, might provoke a controversy that would not be without its interest. M. Emile Zola is a realist as no man was ever a realist before,— as no man has ever ventured to be. He is known as having already published several novels in which the doctrines of extreme realism received a tolerably unshrinking application; but as compared with his present performance, even the story entitled Son Excellence Eugene Rougon, which describes the love affairs of a prime minister in a stable, savors of ignoble compromise and concession. The programme of L’Assommoir is to call a spade a spade — and something worse. M. Zola, who is a radical in politics as well as in literature, began to publish his story a year ago, day by day, in one of the extreme republican newspapers of Paris; but, as the violent democrats in France have usually been, in their literary tastes, real Rosa - Matildas — this was part of the peculiar ghastliness of the great Revolution — the serial was interrupted by vehement protests from the subscribers, who found it, as the French say when they desire to emulate — or to satirize — English sensibilities, too “ shoking.” It was then transferred to the pages of a less sensitive periodical, and was so effectually advertised by the scandal it had created that, on its republication in a volume, no less than four editions were demanded in a single day. Seriously speaking, and apart from scandal, the great ability of the book would make it noticeable. Pronounce it as disgusting as one may, it is impossible to deny that it is an extraordinarily stout piece of work. As regards controversy, it will have been effectually answered only when novelists of the opposite school produce something as solid, as closely wrought, and, in the French phrase, as travaillé. A dozen volumes of modern marivaudaye by M. Victor Cherbuliez will be no answer to it, for they will only beg the question. M. Zola has at any rate the merit of not begging the question. If realism is good, he says, it is good all the way through; only when it is superficial — then only — can you charge it with a vice. L’Assommoir is a story of the people, of the most miserable class in the Parisian population; the heroine is a washer-woman and the hero — in so far as there is a hero — is a roof-mender. The cheerful theme of the tale is the downward course of this humble couple, their dégringolade, through one stage of suffering and depravation to another, and finally their utter ruin, shame, and extinction. M. Zola evidently knows his theme; he has studied the " dangerous classes ” intimately and he goes by book. He would claim for his work, I suppose, a high philological value. He has mastered the vocabulary and phraseology of the social stratum that he analyzes, and as these people have something very like a complete dialect of their own, the achievement is a real tour de force. This dialect is extremely foul and obscene, but the author does not spare us a syllable. He prints an immense number of words of which it is safe to say that they have never before, under any circumstances, seen themselves in the garish light of print, and which, as we meet them on the page, seem to blush for their sponsor, in default of his blushing for them. In addition to this he describes certain things — objects, sensations, odors, nameless abominations — which have hitherto been unhonored and unsung, but with which he appears to have closely familiarized himself. For instance, his heroine being a washerwoman, he paints the portrait of the dirty linen that passes through her hands — depicts its aspect, its emanations, its general presence — with a completeness that leaves nothing to be desired. Speaking perfectly dispassionately, it may be said that you read L’Assommoir holding your nose, and that to get to the end of it is a real victory over physical nausea. It might seem that a book of which one is obliged to speak in these terms is not a book to allude to at all; but, for various reasons, the case against L’Assommoir is not so simple as that. The talent and power of the book are very great, much greater than those of which M. Zola has hitherto given evidence, and the energy with which the author follows the straight line he has laid down for himself is highly respectable. To know so supremely well wliat one wants to do is in itself a great force. That M. Zola should want to do just what he does do is at once very surprising and very natural. It is surprising in the artist, as such, as we usually consider him, for we always suppose the artist to be a man of delicacy. But it is natural in M. Zola, individually considered, because it is his privilege to strike as a mind in which the absence of delicacy is altogether phenomenal and abnormal. When we talk about delicacy, we begin to speak a different language from his own. This is the great difficulty with L’Assommoir, and not the fact that the author prints a greater or smaller number of dirty words. Life unfortunately contains a very dirty element, and in describing life we must make our account with it. But when M. Zola deals with foul things it is from the foul point of view; we seem to see him sitting in the midst of them; “objective” as he is, with regard to them he is more “ subjective ” still. He does not, as the French say, dominate the situation. The presence in such a mind as M. Zola’s of a literary sense so extraordinary, so masterly, is a very singular phenomenon, and one which seems to prove the commonness, among Frenchmen, of the literary sense. In no other race, certainly, would it be likely to sprout in such a soil. The great fault of M. Zola and the school to which he belongs is the failing to feel that delicacy is a positive factor in a real work of art. It is with delicacy in art as it is with generosity in life: these qualities are not obligatory, they are only complementary. If you urge a man to he generous he is free to remind you of the adage which commands him to be just. In the same way if you urge a novelist to be delicate he may inform you that his duty is to be accurate. Nevertheless you feel that generosity sets the stamp upon an honorable life, and delicacy gives its last expression to even the most realistic novel.
— A visit to Washington lately gave me an outside and an inside view of the capital. It is ten years or more since I had been there, and some of the contrasts in the aspect of the city came to me freshly. The same half-holiday look was there; the people in the avenue had the appearance of expecting a procession to pass in half an hour, and civilization and barbarism seemed on the most intimate terms of neighborliness. I joined the army of loiterers and took on, I have no doubt, the general semblance of concealing some deep design beneath my innocent exterior. We all of us bore the air of conspirators, and walked through the corridors as if we had matches in our pockets and full information as to the situation of the several trains below. I felt a strong disposition to wink at every other disreputable-looking man on the premises. Every one surely must have noticed the singular effect produced by a community of tide-waiters.
The novelty of this could not last, and I needed but to pass into one or two streets to recover the decorous idea of domestic and social life. A glimpse that I had of an interior taken with a sudden passage from the rotunda at the capitol into the quiet retreat of the library, with its wonderful outlook from alcovcd recesses off upon Virginia hills and skies, set me to thinking and asking questions, which confirmed my previous notion that a man of letters, having a movable home, could scarcely do a wiser thing than encamp in Washington during the congressional season. Here, for instance, is the congressional library, rich in materials for American history, and placed freely at every one’s disposal; here are the galleries of the two houses, from which one may watch debates seldom devoid of interest, and carrying numberless hints to the spectator which the printed reports never mention; here is the supreme court, with the opportunity which it offers for hearing great legal encounters; and here are the several departments and government institutions, full of instruction and suggestion for the student. Within a brief compass one may get epitomes of the national life, so that the city is almost as compact as the International Exhibition, and with more vital display.
Yet the strongest claim which Washington has upon the interest of the man of letters is undoubtedly in the society which it affords. Society in America has been so disintegrated by the powerful demands of business and professional pursuits, that nowhere except in Washington is there kept alive that idea of society which regards conversation and free exchange of thought as a priceless substitute for books. Here one finds that of which he has read or perhaps met in foreign capitals, a community of educated, well-bred people, whose business it is to be sociable, and who can really help one to facts and ideas, always upon sound principles of exchange. Subjects, in investigating which one may spend weeks at the library, blindly groping his way, will be illuminated by an hour’s conversation with the secretary of a legation, and a foreign tour may be taken at a dinner party.
The orderly arrangement of material products at an international fair gives a comparison with the representation of foreign thought at the capital. An educated American after reading Mr. Tieknor’s life is filled with a sense of regret that the world of intelligent society should he so remote from his neighborhood. Let him spend a few weeks in Washington, with as definite a right to society as Mr. Ticknor had, and he will discover that he need not cross the water to stock his journal with records of conversation and scene that may have conspicuous place in the light reading of his children or grandchildren. I am not, myself, very movable, but just as America, when it comes to the point of a decision, is vastly more interesting to me than Europe, so I would rather pass a winter in Washington, if I had my choice, than in London, and I believe that as an American student I should gather a more abundant return.
— Speaking of cults and Turgenef (I adopt the simplest permissible spelling), the people I know who follow Turgenef as a cult are of lhe best taste. There are some who would not only place him in the front rank, but even at the head, of modern fiction. I am a respecter of legitimate authority, and it pains me not to be able to agree with them; but when you cannot agree, how can you? I cannot persuade myself, after a good deal of effort, that Turgenef is better than a number of his contemporaries in each of the leading countries, including our own. He is brilliant in passages, but unequal. The best, modern work is characterized by a symmetry, an air of reflectiveness, a close covering of every point, a throughand-through fineness of texture which he seems to me to lack. His people appear sketchy, his plots a little loose-jointed, and the whole effect slightly chaotic, although many of these people are boldly and truthfully delineated, and the plots abound in elements of dramatic power. A story of his gives me the feeling of an unfinished frieze, on which here and there charming figures, especially those of his women, are painted in cool grays, blues, aud whites, like the work of a French master, while between them occur long intervals of harsh tints and unformed shapes.
Not to go further into the intricacy of comparisons with rivals more nearly at his own level, if the people of Turgenef be contrasted with the consistent development and thorough finish of those of Thackeray, their want of completeness is seen. He even appears to change their characters and destinations as they are carried along in defiance of logic. Thus in Fathers and Sons, Nicholas Kirsanof, whose hair is represented as having turned prematurely white, early in the book, through grief for a beloved wife, is shown living cheerfully soon after with a pretty peasant girl. His brother, a kind of Russian Major Pendennis, who has retired from a brilliant position in the world and become a recluse for a somewhat similar reason, is in love with this same pretty peasant, Fenitchka. He even fights a duel about her with Bazarof. Bazarof, the: central figure of the book, is supposed at the same time to be devoured by a hopeless passion for Madame Odintsof, of which, as a sort of stoic philosopher, he is ashamed; but the occasion of the duel is his being discovered kissing Fenitchka. Arcadi is in love with Madame Odintsof too, but on the whole loves her sister better. Madame Odintsof loves Bazarof — although she had concealed it — so generously that when he is dying, of malignant typhus, she goes to him, careless of the disease, and kisses him on the forehead. Then, in the next chapter, she marries “an intelligent lawyer with a well-developed practical turn of mind.”
The transitions in Smoke, especially the final one, are much more startling. Litvinof is jilted by a lady whom he dearly loves, in order that she may make a more advantageous marriage. She meets him long after, when he lias quite recovered from his disappointment and is about to marry a young girl of a sweet and confiding nature. She entangles him, wrecks his happiness completely, and then again abandons him. If the story had paused here, one would have been overcome with a profound feeling of melancholy, as at the conclusion of Hamlet or some other hopeless tragedy. The conception was a powerful one. But what does Turgenef do? Why he embarks the hero on a railroad train, and puts in his mouth this pretty enough but trifling reflection: “ The train was moving against the wind. Clouds of smoke, now light, now dark, rolled by the window. Litvinof watched the clouds. ‘ Smoke, smoke,’ he kept repeating, and suddenly all the past seemed like smoke to him.” In the next chapter he marries the other woman, who obligingly takes up with him again.
I do not like this arbitrary business. It may be more true than we usually admit. Life is unfortunately very fickle; but should it not be the care of the novelist to introduce characters capable of more fixity in their emotions, more statuesque, if one might say so? Nothing is more natural than to fall in love a little with each successive pretty woman, but these trifling passions hardly constitute material for literature of a high order, and there is no pathos in their disappointment. There is no call, in books, at least, to have the fact of human mutability so persistently forced upon us. We might be left when the emotion of the moment was supreme to please ourselves with the illusion that it would last. At any rate if this is not done, nobody can be blamed for not yielding his sympathy at the points where it suits the author’s whim to demand it. For my part, having seen elsewhere so much of his theory, and the easy way in which his people get over their troubles, I refuse, at the end of Liza, to bewail with Lavretsky, who appears to be really left in the lurch. “ Since life is such an easily adjustable matter,” I say, “why does not Lavretsky console himself with another wife, or a mistress, like the rest of them? ”
One would say that Turgenef had seen the absurdity of winding up a book in the old-fashioned conventional way, and abandoned it, but had forgotten to put anything in its place. To summarize the above complaint, he makes characters which are inconsistent with themselves, and he fritters away the fullest benefit of a telling situation.
If I were to touch upon two more points in which he is not only not great but positively disagreeable, they would be, first, something which I can account for only by calling it a distorted sense of humor; secondly, his satire upon his own countrymen, especially in Smoke, which is nothing less than brutal. The first consists in the practice of giving to his minor characters, generally those of the best disposition, some repulsive physical trait. Ptougliine, who has a pathetic history as a rejected but ever constant lover, has little black teeth and a nose like a potato. Bazarof’s father also has little black teeth. His mother has a prejudice against cold water. Bambaef. who has a faithful heart, has at the same time cheeks and nose “with a soft look as though they had been well boiled.” Kharlof, the Lear of the steppe, is a horrible, thick-necked, grisly man pervaded by a strong odor. In the same book Is another well-meaning personage with a long face like a horse, covered with yellowish down and moist with fine drops of sweat even in tlie coldest weather.
Turgenef’s satire upon Russia is savage and unrelieved. “ Such is the fate of Russia,” he says; “ the best of her subjects are uncomfortable associates.” Again, “ Time flies nowhere so fast as in Russia, but we are told it flies still faster in prison.” Among his noblemen there is not, he says, “a sincere word, one worthy thought. What perfect ignorance they displayed of everything true and noble!” His students and young radicals fare no better. The picture is mean and coarse in every part. All this has an appearance of epigram and brilliancy, but I cannot see that it is anything more than an appearance. Such bitterness is not called for, upon his own presentation of the facts. If there can be one such sensible and high-ininded character in each book as Litvinof and Lavretsky, there must be others in Russia. There must have been some spark of generosity and elevated purpose among his young agitators, however misguided. It is not the spirit of a great mind to launch sweeping aspersions upon idasses whose circumstances are not, after all, of their own making, and to avoid every friendly suggestion of a remedy for evils detected .
I am of opinion that Turgenef is saved by a number of exquisite details, natural single figures, touches of insight, and bits of picturesque description. If he depended upon the conception of his plots, their purpose, or his manner of telling a story, I do not think he would have a cult, and certain ones of us would not be called upon to he harassed with the doubt whether we are not perversely doing injustice to the greatest writer of the age.
— Is there anything quite so good, in this somewhat flavorless world, as real Yankee talk (I don't mean the dialect) when you “ get it good ”? I should be very sorry for anything that made some people whom I recently met any wiser, better, or more cultivated; they were so precious for the parlance which was part of their present condition. They got into the cars at Brighton, an old woman and a middle-aged one; both of that eminently respectable but desolately narrow-minded class which does so prevail in New England. They were friends, but met accidentally in the train, both being bound to Boston on a shopping excursion. One sat in the seat with me, the other just behind me, so that they talked literally into my right ear, and I could not escape a word they said. The dialogue ran as follows: —
“ Why, Mis’ Kettell, you don’t say you’re here ! Goin’ in slioppin’? So be I. Is n’t it amazin’ to think Thanksgivin’s so near come round ag’in? It don’t seem anywheres near a year, does it? ”
“ Well, no, it don’t. Do you put eggs in your squash pies? ”
“Why, yes; don’t you? ”
“Well, no; I use crackers. Eggs are so dear. I think crackers most as good ” (timidly).
“Well, I never ate a squash pie yet with crackers in it but what I could taste ’em. Where do you get your raisins? To Newman’s? ”
“ What d’s he ask? He used to be dear. We hain’t traded there much for a year.”
“ Thirty cents for them I got; I thought they was cheap. Mis’ Allen went to Boston yesterday. I expect she went in to look at cloaks. Jordan & Marsh opened yesterday.”
“No, she’s goin’ to wear her shawl ag’in this winter. It’s pretty thick, you know, an’ big, an’ you can always put somethin’ under. ’T ain’t such a shawl’s I should ever have bought, though.”
“ No, ’t ain’t a warm-lookin’ shawl, an she hain’t got the figger for a shawl, either; but I expect Mr. Allen he’s pretty close with her. Whit do you think of this stuff? ” (showings little pattern of gray serge.)
“ Well, it’s a nice color, but seems to me it’s a little slazy.”
“Well” (with a deep sigh), “I’m afraid ’tis, but I don’t want to give over quarter of a dollar a yard, 'n' this was the best I could get for that, in this color, ’n’ I’d set my heart on havin’ gray. How dreadful your eye does look, Mis’ Kettell! Ain’t you a doin’ anythin’ for it? ”
The elder woman’s right eye was badly inflamed, and alarmingly unpleasant in appearance.
“ Well, no, I hain’t done much. It’s pestered me most to death for three weeks. I did try an alum curd. I heard that was good for sore eyes, but it didn’t do me a mite of good. If it. ain’t better in a week, I told Mr. Kettell this morning I should go to a doctor.”
“ A week! I should think so. Why, your eye ’ll run out, if you ain’t careful. Why don’t you try milk ’n’ merlasses. That’s real good. The merlasses is kind o’ sticky, but it’s real cleansin’, and the milk is healin’. ”
“ You don’t say so. I never heard of it. I "11 try it, certain, for I do hate a doctor’s bill worse ’n’ anything in this world, and so does Mr. Kettell. Did you go to the funeral, yesterday? ”
“ No. I was dreadful disappointed, but I could n’t get through my bakin’. They say there was a great crowd; ’n’ folks a pretendin' to be her relations that wa’ n’t never heard of before.”
“Why, she didn’t leave much, did she? ”
“ Well, no; Mr. Gunn, he says after he’s paid himself for her board all these years, 'n' her tombstone’s put up, 'n' her husband’s (there hain’t never been so much ’s a stick or a stone set to his grave), there won’t be anything left to speak of; if there is, I think the Gunns oughter have it, don’t you? They’ve took care of her so long.”
“Hm — I don’t know about that, either; ’t wan’t any more 'n their dooty.”
“ Well, I suppose not, if you look at it that way. ”
Here the train stopped; the two women gathered up their bundles: Mrs. Kettell wiped her poor old eye, and as she went stumbling out, I heard her say to her friend, “ What was ’t you said you gave for raisins to Newman’s? ”
— Every man and woman who like myself proposes to write the coming American novel rejoiced in the announcement, a month or two ago, that the duello of ancient and honorable origin was to be revived. Good society, after an interregnum of shameful peace, resolved in this country to go back to the “ thirty-six commandments” of the Code Galway. Authoritative letters from London, lately published, assure us that the resolve ‘ ‘ was approved there in the highest classes.” There is no redress now for wounded honor or bruised backs among sensitive and refined young men except an appeal to the sword. Consider the opportunities opened to such of us as are fictionmongers! We have had to paint on a fiat canvas heretofore. Wall Street catastrophes, the: rise and fall of stocks and parties, — these were our tragedies, our conflicts of passion; our novels were like Flemish market-places. Did I wish to depict Alonzo tormented by the Erinnys, I had to make him a defaulting cashier or a swindling cornerer in sugar. Was Imogene to reveal the depths of womanly fidelity, I had to make her a sales-lady at three dollars per week. Now, dice, a woman, a challenge, a lonely moor, small swords, death, remorse! Every novel-writer, as I did, seized on a fresh sheet and prepared his bloodiest, blackest dyes. The harvest of incident promised to be abundant. We knew that the public, like Bob Acres, would find that valor was catching. The talk of these modern young fire-eaters would act upon it as the trumpet to the war-horse. “The thunder of valor would sour the milk of human kindness in our breasts.”
When good society legalized pistols and swords, what dramatic possibilities might we not hope for from the lower classes where passion is less controlled? At last there was a chance of introducing a proper chiaro-oscuro in American life, a dark background to the everlasting shop! We might hope for a return of that dramatic epoch in Dublin society when the first question asked by a lady of her suitor was, “Have you blazed?” and the second, “Leveled how many?” We gloated over ancient picturesque records; as, for instance, of the great combat between Cormae O'Connor and Tinge O’Connor, who hewed at each other with broadswords in the castle of Dublin, the archbishops, nobles, and ladies of rank in full dress looking on. Presently Mr. T. O’Connor succeeded in cutting the head of Mr. C. O’Connor clean off, and laid it in the genteelcst manner at the feet of the chief - justice. Perhaps it was too much to hope for such firstclass material as this; but we might reasonably anticipate tragedy, and a good deal of it. The public is a rational public; it can appreciate the common sense which prompts an injured man to wash out his dishonor in the blood of his enemy. The thing may not be lawful, it may not be Christian, but it has a show of justice in it. The lex talionis has its roots pretty deep in every man’s nature. If the old bloody duel or any other good thing in the past can be dug up with Dr. Schliemann’s old copper for the benefit of literature and art, this amiable public would cry. Let us dig them up, in Heaven’s name!
But as a novel-writer I protest against any tawdry shams. When my Alonzo says that his wounded honor requires a chance to kill or be killed, he must mean what, he says. Am I to take him posthaste to Jersey or Canada, followed by a pack of noisy reporters, merely to pop off a pistol, nobody knows how, nobody knows where, and not as much blood drawn as if he had been comfortably vaccinated? A fight where nobody means to be hurt or to hurt is no more the duel of our hot-blooded ancestors than Mercutio’s yellow hose, standing empty on the stage, would represent that foolish but courageous gentleman. We had enough of these bloodless duellos before the war. The fire-eaters were known as the longest - lived men in lliehmond. I will not have Alonzo made ridiculous. If good society is to give us the duel again, I, for one, call, like Sim Tappertit, for gore, human gore, and plenty of it!
— As a wandering and wondering pilgrim to Philadelphia, I tried to keep an impartial eye on all that I could well take, in, but must confess to feeling slightly aggrieved toward the close of the late Centennial Exhibition on noting that only one or two pictures in the almost exclusively Boston room in the Annex had been honored with placards of approval. Consolation, however, was within easy reach. I had only to step into the adjoining rooms and look again at some of those from which the badges of judgment so lavishly displayed themselves. Involuntarily I recalled an absurd story told me by a Boston artist. He said that when the metropolitan judges came on to our “village” to assist in determining which pictures should be accepted for representation, they finally capped all argument upon the subject by shutting their eyes and feeling along the canvases for the smoothest. And as I looked about me I could half believe it.
On the other hand, not earing to fit every wish within the measure of intense Boston, I found I could desire far more variety than our too limited display afforded. Artistic eliqueism, the trying to do like somebody else, was too apparent. It was not encouraging to note how little effort the artists had made to swing outside their respective citcles; and the inclosed area was so small! But the show as a whole tended to confirm what any close observer of the exhibitions of each season must have heretofore noted, namely, that Boston has far more quality in art than she has largeness of composition or variety in style or subject. Landscapists, so far, outnumber all others; and how few even among these attempt anything large! Inness does, and, in a measure, Cole, but the majority of Boston artists seem to show a tacit sneer for large pictures, which is not easily accounted for, since size — other things being equal — certainly denotes added power. The small luminous landscape with a Corot sky seems to be the Boston favorite at present; but is the strong tendency to accent New England landscapes with French skies a safe one, and how long can it be followed without producing satiety? The bloom of this ethereal treatment is not caught and imprisoned by indifferent hands. The celebrated Frenchman who has been so largely copied is said to have got up at a certain hour each morning to seize upon just that light; he did not have as variable skies to choose from as have our artists, of whom it could be wished that they would confine themselves as strictly to native things as he did.
Outsiders have remarked in some of our later story-tellers a strong tendency to repeat one another, along with a very limited range of vision; and surely New England pictorial art is in far more danger of running into a similar groove, as it is naturally more limited in focus. Boston may well laugh at the old-time niggling, the smoothly finished, highly polished surfaces and tense lines of the New York painters, but one was also forced to respect the vast and bold landscape outlook, or the largely modeled and filled-in historical groups that lined the walls at Philadelphia. Their pioneering ambition and daring imagination might well serve as a spur to Boston art, while Boston could with entire safety spare them many a hint that they must yet assimilate in order to produce really artistic pictures. She could lend them some of her finer fancy and later - day suggestiveness of treatment, thus mellowing the hardness of line and making it less obvious where the first began and the last ended. The thing of beauty that is a joy forever, forever defies the eye to catch its salient points; but the big American canvases did nothing of this sort. Whoever goes through the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, or any of the New York art repositories, must notice how little their artists of to - day have veered from the method of those who first wielded the brush among them. But for all Boston may not have improved upon one or two of her old artists, and despite her limit in quantity, her every artist worth mentioning can show something en rapport with modern tendencies, with the desire to grapple with nature’s moods at first-hand and throw in as much ideal grace as one knows how.
—There is one difficulty in novels (coming from the fact in real life) which is generally evaded, ignored, jumped over, or denied by writers according to their manner, but which yet stubbornly exists. This difficulty is inconstancy. We all, writers and readers alike, want to believe in one only and great love; for it is a beautiful idea. But the trouble is that hardly any one lives up to it. For example, in Mercy Pliilbrick’s Choice the heroine is introduced to us as “heartbroken ; ” a “ grief that she had not been able to rise above ” is mentioned, — a “grief that nobody could bear up under,” and the like. She was married at eighteen, and her husband died suddenly a few days after the marriage; a tragedy indeed! Observe that nowhere is anything said against this man, no hint given that she had been inveigled into marriage without love; on the contrary she is represented as having loved him, and as being in a heart-broken condition when the story opens. Now look. In one year from the time of her husband’s death, she —having already had a friendship with Harley Allen of which it is said “ they loved each other too much to ever love less; they might Lave loved more”—meets Stephen White, and in four weeks' time, during which interval she sees him, mind you, but twice, once for a few formal moments on the evening of her arrival, and the second time by a chance meeting in the street, she nevertheless has him “very much in her thoughts,” and is mistaking other men for him at a distance,” a fact which the author dwells upon (and rightfully) as full of meaning. The very first time he calls upon her, it is said that her soul had “ been slowly growing into the feeling which made it seem not really foreign or unnatural to her” that he should tell her, “ Your face is the very loveliest I have ever seen in my life.” After he goes, she sinks into “ a vague happiness,” a “ dreamy sense of joy.” She has seen him now just four times. The next day when they meet by chance, “ a flush of undisguised and honest gladness ” spreads over her cheeks, and the second day after she is represented as actually crying with disappointment because he fails to meet her. He appears, sees her tears, and, naturally, no one is surprised, after such a demonstration on her part, when he immediately calls her “ darling,” and everything is settled. It is of course only a sudden falling in love, and very well and beautifully described. Still,—the thought will arise, and the question will ask itself,—what has become of that broken-heartedness of hers ? And where is now the memory of that dead husband? One wonders why Mercy Philbrick was introduced as a widow, to begin with; and why the author made an exception to the usual way of escaping this very difficulty, which is to take a young girl as heroine and a first love.
— Have any of our naturalists or artists written of the harmony between the prevailing tints of New England vegetation at different times of the year and of the insect-world at the same seasons? Take, for example, our common butterflies, which nature has been at such pains to adorn; these show a shifting panorama of form and color, from early spring to the time of frost. First, in the sombre, leafless woods, come the various duskywings, brown and black, skipping softly in and out among the gray rocks and over the dry leaves and the dark pools of melting snow. Hard upon these, in the time of early violets, and frequenting the spots most loved by them, follow the little azure and blue butterflies. Then, as the spring fairly bursts upon us with its fresh and varied hues, come crowds of queenly swallow-tails, lustrous with metallic gleam, or striped and belted with gay colors; and the banded and spotted purples that court the quiet forest-road and the brink of the mountain brook; the soft, white butterflies that look too pure for earth, less retiring than the last, float about our gardens — alas! on sad intent; while the brisk little tawny and black skippers everywhere bustle and whisk about. Summer, with its blazing sun and diversified blossoms, brings us the hot-looking coppers and all that dappled baud of Fritillaries and angle-wings blocked in red and black above, and often variegated with odd dashes and spots of burning silver orwith peacock eyes beneath; how they crowd about the spreading thistle blossoms or on the many-flowered umbels of the milkweed, and fan themselves with content at their sweet lot! As autumn approaches and the leaves grow dull, the grain ripens in the meadows and the pastures parch with drought, then come the satyrs or meadow-browns, lazily dancing by the roadside and over the thickets which skirt the fields. In the time of golden-rods and yellow and blue asters, the great throng of yellow and orange butterflies appears ; some of these are with us throughout the season, companions of the buttercup, the dandelion, and the rudbeckia; but now they swarm, flitting busily in zigzag courses over upland pasture and lowland meadow, by marsh and brook, in field and fen, crowding around the open flowers, or dancing in pairs in mid-air.
— Curious investigators might find it worth while to discover what becomes of all the final g’s which are dropped in New England. Do they make their way up the rivers with the shad in the spring? One finds them in superabundance in Northern New Hampshire, where they avenge themselves for the cruel curtailing they met with in Massachusetts by attaching themselves to words to which they do not belong. Witness the universal “mounting” for “mountain,” and “ chicking” for “chicken,” in the White Mountain vernacular.
— The reticence of our compilers and literary editors concerning the late civil war produces incidentally some bad as well as many good results. In the former class, I reckon the almost complete oblivion which seems to have settled upon even so recent and meritorious a writer as Henry Howard Brownell. In the city where I live, which contains one or two of the best libraries of the whole country, I have been able to discover thus far but a single copy of his poems, and that was found (the worse for neglect rather than use) at a second-hand bookstore. Not only the general reading public, but even experienced librarians seem to have entirely lost sight and memory of him.
If you turn to the compilation of an elder poet, Whittier, you will find Brownell represented by a few verses on the burial of a sailor, which have little merit beyond their simplicity and a certain rather commonplace pathos; while Bryant, in his similar collection, inserts a few comic rhymes from the same pen. But where are his strenuous and strident war lyrics? Nothing is more certain than that the Bay Fight, the River Fight, the Eagle of Corinth, and two or three of the accompanying pieces, in spite of many faults, constitute by far the finest and strongest body of battle poetry which this hemisphere has yet given to the world. If people have foregone reading them and thinking about them it is time they were reminded. We must not bury the poems with the poet. In spite of a certain barrenness of imagery and a tendency to repetition, his lurid poetry presents the flaming, grimy grandeur of a sea - fight at close quarters as it has seldom, if ever, been presented before. There is tremendous vigor aud intensity in such lines as these: —
From the camion’s fiery lip !
How the broadsides, deck and frame,
Shook the great ship: ”
The percussive consonants and quick vowels of the final short verse (beginning and ending as it does with sudden smites) following the large open syllables of the longer verses seem to me to mimic admirably the recurrent jarring shook of the recoil.
Southern readers will find something to pass over in the fury of the poet’s partisanship; and all will probably be disposed to do some skipping when they reach the homilies which he has tacked on to several of his finest lyrics. But he has made some absolutely new additions to our stock of poetical beauties: for instance, the “ lovely cannon clouds ” that are so finely described in one of his shorter poems. The “ huge crackling cradle of the pit ” (that is, fire ship) and the close embrace of the Hartford therewith (whose " great guns below never silenced their thunder ”) is at least one unique feature of the River Fight. Brownell brought into effective play a whole vocabulary of terms heretofore denied to poetic use; iu fact, there is hardly anything which goes to make up a ship that is not found (seemingly at home) in his verse. He has also given a new dress and a peculiarly modernized development to certain stock poetic ideas, which make them almost his own. The burial of the dragon’s teeth and their peculiar resurrection, — well, we had heard of it before; but when did that direful crop ever “ spindle to spear and lance ” and “bayonets all ablaze, nprearing in dreadful rows” as in his poem on the Forlorn Hope of Fort Wagner?
The Eagle of Corinth I think, on the whole, the best land battle-piece produced by the civil war, and finely characteristic of the supposed narrator, a manly, rough soldier.
Brownell’s humorous poetry is not worse than most great men perpetrate when they ignore, the example of Shakespeare, who wisely put most of his funny things into prose. The author’s earlier poems are well polished and have some light graces, but give little promise of the lurid storminess of his later work.
— I am reminded, in reading the statement of the author of two novels, in the Contributors’ Club for March, of a remark of Hoksai, the Japanese artist, that “ it is more easy to draw things that no one has seen, than to represent things that every one sees; ” for it seems to me that there is a bit of philosophy in this that explains many a modern novel’s failure. What I would interpret Hoksai to mean, in our present case, is that it is much easier to write a successful story, the persons and circumstances of which are not contemporaneously within either writer’s or reader s acquaintance, than it is to write one iu which both the characters and their situations are matters of present familiarity.
For this there are two reasons: the one is that when a novel is “ of the day,” as some publishers like to announce, it must present in a definite light persons and things about which there are inevitably the most divergent opinions. Go into any fashionable parlor in a large city on the night of a reception, and institute inquiries about Miss Hero and Mr. There, and see what different verdicts will be given. How can a novelist, writing of the society of to-day, and picking his characters from this society, hope to pass half a dozen critics with a favorable judgment? Indeed, will he not be the more likely to run counter to charges of snob, toady, and ignoramus, the nearer he comes to a true delineation of men and women (and their acts) who so differ in their estimate of one another?
A still move serious difficulty which the novel “of to-day” has to contend with is that we do not get the most satisfactory kind of enjoyment from stories treating of things and persons with which we have personal acquaintance. A strictly local story may excite much temporary interest among a small circle of readers, who like to see the name of their town in print, and think they recognize some of their acquaintances under the names of the fiction. But this is exceptional. Scott’s success was in a large measure due to the vividness of the pictures which he drew of times which had passed, with the majority of people, out of definite memory. Thackeray would have had a poor chance with readers and critics if enlightened society in England had been confined to the palaces of the nobility; and I do not doubt that the inhabitants of the London prisons and slums would have found much to sneer at, could they have read the descriptions of Dickens which, to us who know nothing practically about what he wrote, seem so wonderful.
— I wish that it were a possible thing for one to take lessons in impromptu speaking. All my life I have felt hanging over me the awful probability of being called upon to make a downright impromptu speech. I mean called on and no mistake; I do not mean any of those occasions when one can rise amid one’s intimates, smiling as felicitously as possible and armed with the usual non-committal sentence, live words or so long. I mean some solemn moment when I shall perhaps have received, at the end of a ceremonious dinner, so painfully direct an appeal to what might be called oratorical decency that acknowledgment of a pronounced character will become something whose deliberate neglect would rank as unpardonable. In that case wliat should I do? Should I rise upon shaking limbs and stammer forth platitudes, as I have seen wretched beings do before? But if I did not do this, what course would he left me except that of remaining ignominiously torpid within my chair, or of flying in agitation from the room? Of course I would choose to meet disgrace in its first terrible form. That I could get through more than two sentences with anything like common respect for syntax is extremely doubtful; but I am certain that as the clammy effects of my great embarrassment slowly increased I should loseall consciousness that any verb has ever agreed with its nominative in number and person. It is all very well to say that the peculiar circumstances of these occasions exert a sort of inspiring influence. With a majority of favored mortals this may be true; but I do not mind saying (in these anonymous confessions) that it would be impossible for me publicly to thank a person who had saved my life under conditions of the most unselfish heroism. It is hardly a consolation for me to reflect that I am no worse than my betters in this respect. How distressing it is to see some fine intellect pitted against a crowd of merciless after-dinner listeners who, although often charitable enough in their applause, still are forced to meet absolute imbecility with the tremendous scorn of silence! What wildly make-shift sentences I have sometimes heard issue from scholarly lips! All this is very sad, and seems to me wholly wrong. It is well enough to recommend debating-clnbs, but my own experience of such institutions lias always shown me a clique of orators who were " born so ” entertaining a clique of listeners who were not. The traditional difficulties overcome by young Demosthenes are at least encouraging. But Demosthenes probably had an exceedingly bad youthful stutter and no nerves of the slightest importance. I am afraid that if I should address Neptune with a mouthful of pebbles once a week for many years, I should still meet my Appointed Hour in the most cowardly fashion.
— The verses which I mentioned were these: —
ENDLESS AND EVANESCENT.
Upon an August afternoon
At Venice makes the Belle Arti’s
Cool corridors a grateful boon.
There are the master-works of Titian,
The saints of Tintoret are there ;
The Assumption — it escapes me which one —
Hangs opposite the central stair.
The feats of war, the joys of peace,
The grace of Cima Conegliano,
The majesty of Veronese :
And yet to those, however catching,
It is not most my thoughts incline,
But to the lady that was sketching,
In the long gallery, Number IX.
Madonna’s sweet and serious pose;
The ground, a banner, golden-green is
As every heedful traveler knows.
Her face was rapt with that devotion
That glorious art should e'er evoke,
And also, as it seemed, a notion
As though her back were almost broke.
In some soft, gray, well-fitting suit;
Below the hem there showed the modest
Small instep of a buttoned boot.
A shading hat with loop and feather,
Pushed careless backward, crowned her hair,
And fresco, sketch, and cast together
Seemed paltry as I wandered there.
Bent flower-like o'er its comely toil;
It made the Belle Arti meagre —
That flesh and blood 'gainst dust and oil,
That round and real and breathing present
Against the thin and scaling past.
Ah, give me yon dear Evanescent,
And take the sterile works that last!
— An interesting point of comparison between Virgil, the Earl of Surrey, and Morris is the number of lines and words respectively used by the original author and by his translators. In the second book of the Æneid, Virgil uses 804 lines and 5018 words; Morris uses 804 lines and 8856 words; Surrey uses 967 lines and 7979 words. As to number of lines in general, Morris follows Virgil closely throughout the twelve books, except that in the ninth book he has 817 lines and Virgil 818, and in the tenth book he has 909 lines and Virgil 908. In the second book— Surrey translated only the second and the fourth — Morris has 163 fewer lines than Surrey, but has 877 more words. Virgil has 2961 fewer words than Surrey, and 3838 fewer than Morris. But Morris’s lines are longer than either Virgil’s or Surrey’s; Virgil’s lines contain from thirteen to seventeen syllables, and Morris’s usually contain only fourteen; vet English is so much more monosyllabic than Latin that very often where Virgil has a trissyllabic word Morris has three words. Moreover, hundreds of Morris’s words are no doubt solely used because of the metre he adopts, and because he, except as stated above, follows Virgil as to the number of lines in the several books. It would seem, then, that had Morris made the effort, the number of words used by him need not have been much in excess of the number used by Virgil; which shows that English, despite its comparatively flexionless monosyllabic condition, is capable of very remarkable condensation of expression.
— The talk was of Culture, and one who seemed actually to have been thinking about it said some, things that I remember, somewhat as follows: The devotion to culture, or rather the recognition of it by this name, is a matter of comparatively recent growth; self-education is no novelty, but now that it is called by a new name it is supposed to have acquired greater efficacy. Culture nowadays is held to he a sort of democratic road to learning and mental vigor, to he something ennobling and capable of making the most ordinary person interesting. It has become a fetich worshiped by a rapidly increasing clique, which exhausts its originality in finding authorities to follow, and employs its languid energy in following these closely without a murmur of insubordination. The pass-words of its followers are sweetness and light; their main object the accumulation not so much of knowledge as of information on very diverse subjects; their method of work consists in following pretty rigidly the commands of the accepted text - books which most truly preach the code. This, exaggerated by a wrath which considers itself righteous, is the black view of an element in civilization which only needs repression and direction to make good even its own pretensions.
It is not difficult to understand the origin of culture, which should be defined before its fatdts are dwelt on. The multiplicity of subjects which underlie a thorough education is so great, and has so largely increased within the last century, that there are but few people who do not leave whole fields of study absolutely untouched. Some intelligent persons, who, too, have been educated at vast expense, are ignorant of the principle of, say, the common pump; very few have any definite comprehension of the way in which telegraphic messages are sent; many have as slight a knowledge of the botany of even familiar plants as of the anatomy of their own watches. These gaps of ignorance—and the list is capable of enlargement and modification — may or may not be filled in the ordinary course of life; a stray volume of an encyclopædia upon a steamer may make the difference between satisfactory knowledge of some subject or lamentable want of it; a chance acquaintance may explain what one has always regarded as a dark mystery, but such crumbs of aid are too uncertain. At the best they are mere pieces of luck. Culture, it strikes me, is all that part of education which is not special. Every man has his own branch of work, and then he cultivates himself; but if any given man, the president of a bank, for example, is anxious to know whether Chaucer was a general or a poet, — to take an impossible case, — or, for a more recent example, what Schliemann has been doing at Troy, it is culture that undertakes to supply these deficiencies. It puts in a brief and attractive form “ the fairy tales of science and the long result of time.” No man likes to avow openly his ignorance of what to others is as familiar as the alphabet, and hence in his false shame he flies to compendiums, or to critical essays, or to magazine articles which extract and preserve the most savory parts of books for general consumption. With the want comes the supply. Readers desire simple, clear, and accurate statements of what is to them obscure or unknown, and not having the patience or the time to work out the whole matter for themselves, they have to confide in the work of others who have been over the ground and know it well. Now the opinion of an expert on his own subject is of great value, and there is no surer sign of the lack of cultivation than a desire uniformly to set up independent, casual, ignorant judgments as valuable because sincere. They may be valuable, but if they are it will be from some other cause. However this may be, — and it will hear discussion later,— culture may be said to have its origin in the desire ol the public to enjoy the benefit of the work of experts. This also defines its aim. In striving to make a man’s education complete, it tends to save him from sinking into ruts where he would lose consciousness of even the existence of anything differing from his own pursuits. It enlarges the ground whereon men of the most diverse feelings and occupations can meet in common. It helps to keep burning an interest in or possibly devotion to things which run great danger of being forgotten, for above its sordid pedagogic duties one of its surest claims for admiration consists in its being almost tlie only tie between the every-day world and that of which we get visions through poetry and the tine arts.
— Mr, Longfellow’s sonnet on Eliot’s Oak, in the March Atlantic, deserves over - setting into Massaeliusec. Last evening I made a nearly literal translation, and I herewith send you a copy.
J. H. T.
FELLOW, kah yeuyeu qushkinnumun en Massachu-
see unnontoowaonganit. ]
Keen nukkoné Nootimis ! piogque muttanonganog-
kodtash koonepogquash mishontooaäsh,
Nashpe penoowontoowáe wadtauatonqussuongash
nish woh mo wohtamugish,
Onatuh kehtahhanne-tukkcoog mahshontowahet-
tit keechippam moosompsquehtu,
Asuh onatuh oowadtaauatonqussuonk muttaänuk-
keg missinninnuog :
Monchanatamwe iänantoowaongane aninnnumoadtu-
Kah nishnoh howan nootam nohenwonche wut-
Neen, ketookaän, nunnootam unnontoowaonk ne
wanna howan noh kuhkootomwehteadt,
Wuttinnontoowaonk wutohtimoin ne wanhit, kah
no ogque pâmsheau matokqsut nôadt.
Onatuh Abraham wunnonkquáe apit agwe nooti-
messit ut Mamre
Netatup ELIOT mat-wahheáe Apostle ut Indiausut
Agwe kutonk auohtomut nôadt kesukodtut, kah
“ Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God,”en pe-
noowontoowaonganit, ne mohtsheau,
Kah [nahen] wananittamun nashpe wame qut
Literally translated: —
With strange voices which cannot be understood,
As sea waves sounding on the pebbles of the beach,
Or as the voices of a multitude of people.
A wondrous gift of speech in divers tongues is
And every one hears his own language when thou
I, when thou speakest, hear a language that no
one can teach,
The language of a nation that is lost, and that
passed away like a cloud, long ago.
As Abraham at even-tide sat under the oaks of
So Eliot, the unknown Apostle to the Indians, sat
Under thy Shade, in days of old, and wrote
God’s holy Bible in a strange language that hath
And is [almost] forgotten by all save only thee.